‘These people belong in a prison cell.’

by matttbastard

Re: revelations in the newly released Senate Armed Services Committee report on US torture that the Bush admin began planning the program in 2001 and that torture was utilized to gin up a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, what Radley Balko said:

So they tortured Gitmo detainees to get information, which turned out to be false, to build support for a war they had already made up their mind they would wage.

And keep in mind, these decisions were made by political appointees. Not JAGs, not military generals, not even veteran CIA agents (most people in all three positions actually opposed these policies). They were made by neocon warmongers with little to no actual military or interrogation experience who hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing.

These people belong in a prison cell. To excuse them is to say that no abuse of power should be punishable so long as you can come up with some tortured justification about how you were only trying to protect the country.

The headline to a recent op-ed by Simon Jenkins (h/t Sarah) bottom-lines things perfectly:

‘Cheney and the apologists of torture distrust democracy.’

Special prosecutor NAO.

Related: Hilzoy on the ‘”perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm” that helped put the CIA torture program into action (although ‘ignorance’ seems to be a bullshit excuse):

This is what happens when we stop demanding minimal competence in our Presidents; when we start caring more about who we would rather have a beer with than, oh, who would be most likely to seek out the best advice and listen to all sides of an argument before making an important decision, or whose judgment we can trust. We end up with people who toss aside our most fundamental values because someone who has never conducted an interrogation before thinks it might be a good idea, and no one bothers to do the basic background research on what he proposes.

Of course, keep in mind what Nell points out (and Balko implicitly recognizes) in this must-read post:

One of the most persistent and discouraging themes that crops up in discussions of torture is the question of whether it “works” or not. The people engaging this question make a fatally wrong assumption: that the goal of torturers is the same as that of legitimate interrogators — to get reliable information useful for active, circumscribed military operations or police investigations.

But torture does something else altogether, and is designed to do so: it extracts false confessions. These confessions, along with the agony of the torture itself, serve the goals of limitless, lawless “war”: to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture.

The mistaken assumption that those in the previous administration who set the torture policy were motivated solely by an urgent need for information has several other bad effects. It reinforces the absurd ticking-bomb hypothetical that allows so many people to justify torture to themselves. It provides a noble-sounding excuse for the officials who promoted torture, making it harder for citizens to muster the will to hold them legally accountable for their crimes: “They were just trying to keep the country safe.”

The euphemism of “enhanced interrogation” for torture was chosen by both the Nazis and the Bush-Cheney regime exactly because of its propaganda value in reinforcing this false picture: It’s just legitimate questioning that goes a little further. An error of enthusiasm, if you will. An understandable mistake, a policy difference that we sure don’t want to criminalize, looking backward with our 20-20 hindsight.

But, as useful as these effects are to the torturing regime, the most important role of the spurious linkage with intelligence-gathering and interrogation is as a screen: It hides the role of torture in creating and expanding the dirty war itself.

Flashback: Via Democracy Now: Mark Benjamin and Katherine Eban on Mitchell Jessen & Associates, the shrinks who transformed SERE into CIA torture (yes, torture).

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Agony and the Ecstasy

by matttbastard

'Imported.' That just about says it all, huh?

Michael Ignatieff on CBC Radio One just a few moments ago:

“I’m a centrist. A pragmatic centrist.”

Come on, be honest, Iggy.  You’re a self-absorbed wanker who perpetually preens and postures, melodramatically agonizing over the moral implications of just how prime-ministerial you looked during Question Period (yep–so passionately Canadian he bleeds maple syrup, motherfuckers!) Which, admittedly, is a welcome improvement over the (highly public) moral agony you went through several years ago when you urgently debated the merits of torture, thus helping to legitimize the perverse notion that there even WAS any ‘debate’ over torture and its (dubious) merits.

natodutch

Yeah, am sure KSM has thanked you for that–at least 183 times.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

NY Times: 300 Afghan Women Protest ‘Rape Law’

by mattbastard

This is probably the most inspiring and heroic thing I’ve read about in ages:

The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.

“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”

The women scattered as the men moved in.

“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”

The women ran to the bus and dove inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.

“Whores!”

But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

[…]

The women who protested Wednesday began their demonstration with what appeared to be a deliberately provocative act. They gathered in front of the School of the Last Prophet, a madrasa run by Ayatollah Asif Mohsini, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric. He and the scholars around him played an important role in the drafting of the new law.

“We are here to campaign for our rights,” one woman said into a loudspeaker. Then the women held their banners aloft and began to chant.

The reaction was immediate. Hundreds of students from the madrasa, most but not all of them men, poured into the streets to confront the demonstrators.

“Death to the enemies of Islam!” the counterdemonstrators cried, encircling the women. “We want Islamic law!”

The women stared ahead and kept walking.

A phalanx of police officers, some of them women, held the crowds apart.

As Spackerman (h/t) rhetorically asks, “What have you done recently that’s half as brave?”

Related: In an interview with Afghan women’s rights activist Soraya Pakzad, Jean MacKenzie puts the  controversy surrounding the Afghan ‘rape law’ in context:

The reality is that no Afghan woman, Shi’ia or Sunni, has the right to object to her husband’s advances. The international outcry, while well meaning, misses the point: It is not a single law that is the problem, it is the overall status of women.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

On Hard Decisions, Afghanistan, and Unshitting the Bed.

by matttbastard

Pale just sent me this link, which has me right back to asking ‘what the fuck are we doing in Afghanistan again?’  Is it to promote civil society, install democracy and fight for women’s rights, as the Harpercons and the Bushies liked to go on about? Yeah, right; Joe Biden recently gave an interview on CNN where he basically said that it was too effing bad that Afghan women are still getting shat upon, but the primary reason why the US (and NATO) is in Afghanistan  is to keep America safe.

Ok, fine–I get that the US isn’t in the democracy promotion business any more.

Really.

I get it.

But, whether we like it or not,  for all intents and purposes,  NATO is the goddamn Afghan government–we (Canada included) are occupiers, with all the legal responsibilities that go along with that designation.  Karzai (aka The Mayor of Kabul) is a puppet; we pick and choose when and how we are going to pull his strings.  And the way the Obama admin is framing this? As I’ve said before, it’s pure Brzezinski realpolitik. We’ve swung from Utopian idealism to cold, amoral realism.

There is no balance.

Also, the manner in which some have been objecting to the ‘surge’ — the fact that Obama is putting in more troops, period–is the wrong complaint. There’s no point in putting in an additional 17,000 US combat troops because it’s JUST NOT ENOUGH.  Afghanistan needs several hundred thousand additional troops to provide adequate security and allow reconstruction to move forward. And even then it’s gonna be a 30-40 year project. Long. Term. So, if anything, Obama deserves to be spanked for trying to lazily emulate the Bush compromise surge in Iraq — a symbolic act to show that we are Doing Something, even if that Something is, ultimately, futile.

In other words, Obama’s Afghan strategy is a political gesture designed for domestic consumption that will do nothing to advance the stated mission in Afghanistan, nor measurably improve conditions on the ground.

So, we (as in ‘countries that make up NATO forces in the region’) face a decision:  do we want to do the Marshall Plan thing — go big, go hard, remake and rebuild Afghan (and, to a certain degree, Pakistani) society, long-term, FOR REAL–or mop up enough juuust enough to declare victory and get the fuck out before the shit hits the fan? I mean, post-WWII Germany, Japan? Decades-long projects, taken seriously without the half-assed measures and mixed messages about what exactly the mission and its desired outcomes were.  IF we are going to take the former route we need to do it RIGHT–or don’t do it at all.  Because we are investing priceless commodities–lives, money, and political capital–into this endeavor.

Problem is, many on the left are still acting like it’s 2002 and Afghanistan is Iraq,  arguing about whether the war and its stated goals (haphazard as they may have been) was the right thing to do. Newsflash, kiddies: it’s already been done–we broke it (oh, how we fucking broke it) and are once again the proud owners of another failed fucking state. Now we need to decide what the fuck we’re going to do with it.

And, unfortunately, sometimes there are no ideal options–merely the least-bad of a truly rotten bunch.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Unions Fight Back Against Anti-Worker Legislation (While Parliament Dithers)

by matttbastard

Another federal union has challenged provisions in the wicked-awesome Harpercon budget that “[take] away collective bargaining in the public service and pay equity as a human right for federal workers”–a budget that, it should be noted, passed with (probationary!) support from Iggy and the Tory-lites (who haven’t exactly been hawk-like in their fiscal vigilance since).

As pogge (h/t) observes:

We seem to be moving closer to the American system despite ourselves. Bad legislation sails through without sufficient opposition and the real fight happens in the courts.

Yep. Democracy in Canada is dying from the inside out.  There is no meaningful opposition in Parliament, much less leadership from the government–there’s Blue and Blue Light.

'Imported.' That just about says it all, huh?

Drink up and drown, kiddies.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Obama on Afghan Marital Rape Law: Fighting Terror Trumps Women’s Rights

by matttbastard

While holding a press conference the NATO summit in France, Obama was just asked a tough question from Fox News’ Major Garrett (I know, even a stopped clock is right twice a day) regarding the absolutely disgusting Afghan marital rape law and what steps the US intended to take (if any).

Obama sputtered out some mealy mouthed diplo-speak about how the law is “abhorrent” and that  “the views of the administration have been and will be communicated to the Karzai government.”

Not satisfied with this non-response, Garrett followed up, asking for clarity.

The subsequent statement from the POTUS absolutely floored me:

“We have stated very clearly that we object to this law. But I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat al Qaeda… .” [statement clarified based on transcript–mb]

Excuse me?!

Ok, reality check time.

Canada’s government? It sucks. Big time.

And yet Parliament is publicly putting pressure on the Afghan government to roll back this despicable proposed legislation (even if the Harpercons could be a bit more muscular in expressing their ‘deep concerns’).

President Barack Obama? He basically said that the war effort trumps human–women’s–rights–in other words, “screw the wimminz, our primary interest is rootin’ out terrorism!” Yeah–the amoral influence of Brzezinski on the Obama admin’s foreign policy (to paraphrase, “winning the war on terror is more important in the long run that a few violated women”) is definitely shining through like a lighthouse beacon.

Update: Video and transcript of the exchange, courtesy Think Progress:

Q Thank you, Mr. President, and good afternoon. I’d like to ask you about a law that’s recently been passed in Afghanistan that affects the 10 percent of the Shia population there. A summary of it says it negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage, and restricts a woman’s right to leave the home. The United Nations Development Fund for Women says this legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. I’d like your assessment of this law, number one. Number two, will you condition future troop movements of the U.S. to Afghanistan on the basis of this law being retracted or rewritten? And if not, sir, what about the character of this law ought to motivate U.S. forces to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, this was actually a topic of conversation among all the allies. And in our communication — communiqué, you will see that we specifically state that part of this comprehensive approach is encouraging the respect of human rights. I think this law is abhorrent. Certainly the views of the administration have been, and will be, communicated to the Karzai government. And we think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.

Now, I just want to remind people, though, why our troops are fighting, because I think the notion that you laid out, Major, was that our troops might be less motivated. Our troops are highly motivated to protect the United States, just as troops from NATO are highly motivated to protect their own individual countries and NATO allies collectively. So we want to do everything we can to encourage and promote rule of law, human rights, the education of women and girls in Afghanistan, economic development, infrastructure development, but I also want people to understand that the first reason we are there is to root out al Qaeda so that they cannot attack members of the Alliance.

Now, I don’t — those two things aren’t contradictory, I think they’re complementary. And that’s what’s reflected in the communiqué.

Q But do you object to the law –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We have stated very clearly that we object to this law. But I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat al Qaeda and ensure that they do not have safe havens from which they can launch attacks against the Alliance.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

PSA: Support the Uniting American Families Act of 2009

by matttbastard

Immigration Equality:

Great News! Rep. Jerrold Nadler plans to reintroduce the Uniting American Families Act on Feb. 13!

You can make the bill a success by convincing your Representative to support the bill from Day One. Reintroducing the bill with as many cosponsors as possible will show powerful momentum for the rights of gay and lesbian binational couples!

Please call your Representative and ask them to be an original cosponsor of the “Uniting American Families Act of 2009”

It’s easy!

  1. Find out who your U.S. House Representative is.  Go to http://www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/index.htm, enter your address, and you will be provided the name of your U.S. Representative.
  2. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask to be connected to your U.S. Representative.
  3. Tell your representative’s staff:

I am calling to ask Representative ________________ to be an original cosponsor of the Uniting American Families Act of 2009.  To cosponsor, he/she must contact Rep. Jerrold Nadler who is the lead sponsor.

The U.S. government discriminates against gay and lesbian binational couples by not allowing us to sponsor our foreign-born life partners for immigration.  Because of this, we face the terrible choice of separating from the person we love or leaving our country.  As Americans, we should not have to choose between family and country.  Please ask Rep. _________________ to cosponsor the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 by reaching out to Rep. Nadler before February 12.

Thanks for asking your member of Congress to celebrate love this Valentine’s Day by cosponsoring UAFA!

h/t Sarah J

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

If Tennessee is the Buckle of the Bible Belt Then Utah is the Backside

by matttbastard

Well, isn’t this lovely:

The Utah House of Representatives will hear a controversial proposal that could hold physicians responsible for homicide if they perform abortions deemed illegal by the state.

Under current state law, abortion is allowed only in cases of rape or incest, if the fetus cannot survive outside the womb or is unlikely to survive, or to save the mother’s life or preserve her health.

Abortions that don’t meet any of those standards can result in third-degree felony charges.

Under House Bill 90, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, physicians who perform illegal abortions could be charged with second-degree felony criminal homicide.

“In my opinion, illegal abortion is the same as murder,” Ray said. “This is the right step for Utah to take to protect the lives of unborn children, because they don’t have a voice.”

Note how it’s  the doctors who performed the “illegal” abortions potentially facing charges under this proposed new law, not the women who ‘contracted’ the “killing”. In a (perverse) sense, it’s almost gratifying to see the fetus fetishists explicitly affirm their belief that women are merely empty vessels that bear teh innocent baybees over to this mortal coil–boxes on a biological assembly line, if you will.

Which perhaps answers the question posed via IM by Sylvia/M (h/t):

“Will women be accomplices, then? Or scenes of the crime?”

Take action:

If you live in Utah or you want to send some strongly-worded letters to the Democrats in their House of Representatives about this bill, here’s the UT House websiteTell these representatives that doctors protecting women’s health is not an air quotation myth.

Update: Jill Miller Zimon  has compiled a plethora of info on this proposed anti-woman legislation. Go.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

‘A Place of Jarring Juxtapositions’

by matttbastard

Toronto Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, who, over the course of her career, has visited the detention facility at sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba fifteen times, gives an essential summation today of what she calls “a place of jarring juxtapositions”:

Suicides of the detainees became “asymmetric warfare” and force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes was “assisted feeding.” Captives did not have “interrogations” but had “reservations.” And signs posted on the road to the camps listed the “Value of the Week” as “Pride” or “Respect” even as Washington debated the definition of torture.

[…]Journalists have been the public’s eyes and ears at the base for the last seven years and the ever-changing rules have at times hampered our efforts to tell the whole story.

Security regulations surrounding photos and videos were perhaps the most confounding.

Last week, censors erased a photographer’s shots of the tents at “Camp Justice” where journalists reside because there were more than three tents in the frame. A television reporter’s clip was deleted because the shot showed her talking with an orange barricade in the background. No one could explain why that was a problem.

Tight shots of razor wire were okay, except if it surrounded the courthouse, even if the courthouse wasn’t shown. I tried to point out that I didn’t think Al Qaeda would be surprised that razor wire was being used as security.

Detainees couldn’t be interviewed or identified in photographs because of the Geneva Conventions, Pentagon spokespeople and military commanders told us.

The international treaties state that prisoners of war must “at all times be protected … against insult and public curiosity.” The PoWs should be afforded “respect for their persons and their honour.”

But the Bush administration created this offshore prison in an effort to sidestep those same Geneva Conventions. U.S. President George W. Bush, who left office last week, famously stated that only the “spirit of” the Geneva Conventions would be respected at Guantanamo.

Our military escorts would correct us if we referred to captives as prisoners because these were not “prisoners of war” but “detainees.”

And if the reason for censoring photos was to protect a captive’s right to privacy and honour, then the Pentagon violated its own rules when it released Guantanamo’s most famous picture. The photo, taken in 2002, showing shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeling in the hot Cuban sun while dogs and soldiers bark at them, was actually taken by a U.S. sailor.

When international furor erupted, the Pentagon quickly labelled the photos “For Official Use Only” in an attempt to prevent further distribution. But it was too late.

The entire article is a must-read, if only to counter revisionist attempts to distort the legacy of Guantanamo, such as this unfortunately (if tellingly) titled op-ed from Sunday’s Washington Post, ‘When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good,’ in which writer Karen J. Greenberg tries to construct a ‘One Good German’ counternarrative lauding “small initial efforts at decency” on the part of detention officials.

Purported good intentions aside, Guantanamo was an immediately tainted effort once the decision was made to, according to Greenberg, “act in a manner “consistent with” the conventions (as the mantra went) but not to feel bound by them [emphasis added].”  As soon as the US untied itself from binding international law, specifically and deliberately design a detention facility in order to sidestep regulation and oversight,  the entire enterprise was doomed to debasement, no mater how hard officials initially tried to voluntarily (key word) “go with the Geneva Conventions,” as Staff Sgt. Anthony Gallegos, quoted by Greenberg, put it.

Keep that statement–“not to feel bound by them“–in mind as the new administration ties itself in knots trying to untangle the legal and moral mess left behind by the previous–and, as GOP leaders like John Boehner continue to peddle the Club Gitmo myth,  also remember Shephard’s stark recounting of Guantanamo’s true legacy.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers